Stay Focused with a Spiritual Journal
A personal reflection…
“I didn’t deserve to be treated like that! It wasn’t right, and it crushed me. I’m angry and want to retaliate. But I know that’s not the right response. I’m powerless to right the injustice, and that’s frustrating. Lord, help me not to become bitter.”
The above reflection, plea, and prayer are not fabricated expressions. They are my words attempting to express my emotions. They were recorded in my spiritual journal several years ago at a time that was extremely painful.
Self-reflection requires more than expressing one’s self. It necessitates listening.
A message from God…
“Will you trust me with your wound? Are you willing to give me your pain? Clinging to your wound and reliving your injustice delays you from enjoying the freedom I have for you.”
These were not audible words I heard. These impressions came as I was reflecting on what I had just written. Aware of my thoughts, I had to place them on paper. More than casual fleeting perceptions, these words spoke directly to me.
Reflecting on God’s questions and insight help reveal deeper issues …
“Releasing my wound to your care requires me to release my adversary to your justice, not mine.” Am I willing to do that? If not, what’s holding me back?
“Do I desire the freedom to enjoy and experience life fully? Is my desire to cling to my wound greater than my longing to be free? If so, why?”
Spiritual journaling is a tool to facilitate our cooperation with God’s Spirit, helping us make sense of the “deeper” work He is doing in our souls.
Journaling encourages us to express in writing what we’re feeling. A spiritual journal is a transparent conversation communicated in writing between one’s self and God.
I’ve practiced journaling for years. It’s not an every-day-discipline for me. However, like a carpenter who needs a particular tool for the right job, spiritual journaling is a valuable practice to help me notice God’s presence in my life.
Reviewing past journal entries allows me to observe how God’s Spirit was actively working in my life — even when I wasn’t aware. It’s encouraging to recall God’s faithfulness in the past, which bolsters my hope and confidence for whatever I face today.
Spiritual growth requires self-reflection.
I’m not speaking of “navel-gazing” (a self-indulgent or excessive contemplation on one’s self or a single issue). I’m talking about an honest desire to see a more comprehensive view. Journaling is a spiritual practice that encourages self-reflection and opens us to discover God’s active presence.
Joe Carter reminds us:
“The Bible does not mention spiritual journaling, but certain books of the Bible (e.g., Psalms, Nehemiah, Jeremiah) record prayers, personal life events, reflections on Scripture and other themes often associated with the practice.”
The Psalms have inspired and comforted generations of readers. They are cherished words: expressions filled with plea, prayer, and praise.
A careful reading of these recorded words allows us to sense the honest, passionate, and heartfelt expression of emotions: fear, anger, despair, resentment, confusion — as well as joy, delight, contentment, and celebration — sentiments familiar to each of us.
But we must not forget that many of the Psalms are a personal reflection of the author’s experiences: ruminations of lived reality.
Spiritual journaling helps us freely express ourselves, hear from God, and stay focused on God.
The Psalmist reminds us:
“Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us.” - Psalm 62:8 (ESV) [emphasis mine]
Here are some things to be aware of when practicing journaling:
A spiritual journal is not the same as a diary.
A chronological accounting of daily events in a diary may be beneficial. However, a spiritual journal is much more. It’s a heartfelt prayer conversation captured on paper that reflects an interior dialogue between the writer and God.
You don’t have to be a writer to “journal.”
Lay aside concerns about grammar, punctuation, spelling, or flow of thought. Raw and rough can be revealing and rewarding. Just write. Your journal isn’t for others to see. It’s for you — and the Lord.
Resist the temptation to “get it right.”
The question isn’t: “Am I doing this right,” it’s “am I being honest.” Authenticity is more important than accuracy. Remember, your words are between you and God. The Lord wholly and thoroughly knows us — and accepts us. There’s no need to hide or to be delicate about our expressions.
Remember: Journaling is about honest expression — AND listening.
After expressing yourself to God, pause to listen. Rest with the assurance that God has heard your plea, prayer, and praise. What are you noticing? What thoughts come to you? Write them down. Let them speak to you.
What concerns you? What is it that you are thankful for? What questions do you have? What is it that you would like to discuss with God? What might God desire to speak to you?
Whether you prefer “old school” (an empty notebook or journal) or a computer: A spiritual journal is a beautiful practice to help us be aware of God’s abiding presence. Writing our conversations with the Lord assists us in staying focused upon God.
Here are a few points to remember:
Start with prayer. Give yourself a moment to be still and silent before speaking/writing. God often speaks to us in silence.
Take a few minutes to read a passage of Scripture. What are the words speaking to you? God’s voice speaks to us through Scripture.
Invite the Holy Spirit to guide you. Begin to write whatever your prayer and the reading have inspired in you. Just write.
Read and reflect. What are you noticing as you reflect on the words you’ve written? Sometimes, nothing may come to mind. Other times, we may discover insight, clarity, comfort, or conviction. Remember, no matter what happens, time spent with God is always time well spent.
Here’s a resource to help us if we seem stuck: 20 Prompts for Spiritual Journaling